Category Archives: Politics

Laila Ali: The White House Gate

Photo: Rosalind Solomon. The White House Gate.

 

Report by Laila Ali, Copyright 2012

.

An Exploration: The White House Gate

.

In this photograph report, I plan to examine a piece called the White House Gate created by Rosalind Solomon. I will start with the biography of the photographer, Rosalind Solomon. After, I will explain how print quality, print materials, and print size impacts the image of The White House Gates image. Then I will claim that The White House Gate image is best categorized as its dominant formal characteristics as defined in John Szarkowski’s book: The Photographer’s Eye the detail. Lastly, I will conclude with how the other components Szarkowski mentioned will shape the photograph. 

Rosalind Solomon: Biographical and Historical Context

Rosalind Fox Solomon was born on April 2 in 1930, at Highland Park, Illinois. She is an American artist, established in New York City, known for her portraits and connections to human suffering, ritual, and survival. Solomon attended Highland Park High School and graduated in 1947. She then attended Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 1951. Then, Solomon got married and moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee. She then later divorced 63 years later after having two children. In 1968, Solomon began her photography work. She occasionally studied with Lisette Model, whose an Austrian-born American photographer primarily known for her frank humanism on her street photography from 1971 to 1977.  

Before Solomon started to get into photography, she became the Southern Regional Director of the Experiment in International Living. She visited communities throughout the Southern United States, where she recruited families to host international guests to build on cross-culture in a personal way. Through her volunteer work with the Experiment in International Living, Solomon got the opportunity to travel to Japan, where Solomon stayed with a family near Tokyo. Later, when Solomon was 38 years old, she began to use an Instamatic camera to convey her feelings and ideas, which was a turning point in her career and life experience in photography. 

In 1977 and 1978, Solomon moved to Washington where she photographed artists and politicians for her project series “Outside the White House”. Within this series, she photographed “The White House Gate”, the one I will later be exploring. This project lasted for about two years. Later on, in 1978, John Szarkowski included her work in the exhibition Mirrors and Windows at the Museum of Modern Art and presented examples from her Dolls and Mannequins series in the show. The use of dolls, children, and mannequins was some of the items she used as her subject. Also, Szarkowski selected 50 of her pictures to be part of the MoMA’s permanent collection. Her pictures appeared over the years in many different group exhibitions at the MoMA such as American Children, American Politicians, Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography, and The Original Copy: Sculpture in Photography 1839. Recently, the MoMA included her work in the anthology Photography at MoMA: 1960—Now, and curator, Peter Eleey, even dedicated a room to present her art pieces at MoMA PS1 in the Greater New York 2015 exhibition. Ultimately, this led to the rise of her as a photographer and the beginning of her work internationally like Peru, India, Germany, Zimbabwe, South Africa, etc.

Overall, Solomon’s work circulates between the personal and the universe as a whole. Her expertise is in her interpretation skill and the ability to take a snapshot of both social elements of the places she travels. In 2019, her artwork was recognized by receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Center for Photography. Over the past 45 years, Solomon has created inspirational work, presented in almost 30 solo exhibitions, about 100 group exhibitions, and in the collection of over 50 museums worldwide. 

Medium and Presentation

As mentioned, Solomon worked on the “Outside the White House” series. In this series, Solomon created a piece called “The White House Gate” in 1977. The photograph is present in the Jane Lutnick Fine Arts Center at Haverford College. This image is a gelatin silver bromide print. A gelatin silver print can be sharply defined and detailed based on the light sensitivity to the silver halides. Also, this type of print can last several hundred years. The picture has a strong negative, specifically on the gate, which is probably due to the silver chloride to darken the gates and make the gate pop in the image.

The dimension of the picture is 15” x 15” (38 cm by 38 cm). The photograph is generally a regular size. But, it’s over matted with a beveled-shaped edge around the image. So it allows the viewer to focus more on the White House gate. Overall, the purchase of the photograph was through a Patrons of Art gift in May 1986.

“The Detail” in The White House Gate

In the book, the Photographer’s Eye, John Szarkowski describes an overview of the fundamental difficulties and opportunities of the photographs. In the introduction of the book, he offers a brief historical overview of photography, specifically how photography has evolved over the years and how he views it as a unique characteristic. Szarkowski begins the book by stating that “the invention of photography provided a radically new picture-making process- a process based not on synthesis but selection. The difference was a basic one. Paintings were made-constructed from a storehouse of traditional schemes and skills and attitudes-but photographs, as the man on the street put it, were taken” (1). This led to the posed question – how can the process of photography be used in creating meaningful/significant pictures and valid art? In the book, Szarkowski argues that photography has a unique place within the broader world of artistic practice. Throughout the book, Szarkowski discusses and provides exemplar photographs of characteristics of the medium that is represented as a form of art but does not define discrete categories of artwork. He states five main characteristics: the thing itself, the detail, the frame, time, and vantage point that are important for the creation of eloquent photography.

According to The Photographer’s Eye, Szarowski would say that the photograph of the White House Gate would be a picture representing “the detail”. The idea of “the detail” photography connects to depicting reality and depicting reality as it happens, in front of the photographer. The photography can not really “pose the truth”, but can capture snippets of the truth as it unfolds. So, the photographer needs to be content with representing the details of a narrative or an event, rather than trying to represent the whole thing. 

In The White House Gate image, Solomon shows us different parts of the image. In the photograph, Solomon focuses on multiple details. One detail is the picture being taken in 1977 in front of the White House Gate at Washington, District of Columbia, US. The photograph displays the northwest gate of the White House during a snowstorm. The photograph shows that it was currently snowing as it was taken. In the picture, we see snowflakes falling as well as sticking to the gate and the ground. This detail informs the viewer of the time/season it occurred, which captured a fragment in depicting reality. 

Another fragment is the tire marks on the ground. The tire marks are emphasizing that a car must have recently entire the White House before Solomon took this picture. Or Solomon could have intentionally had a car drive into the White House before she took the picture. This is another fragment that part takes in bringing the whole picture together.

Lastly, the darkness of the gate of the White House is a vital detail for the narrative. The strong negative of the photograph helps bring viewer attention to the gate and what surrounds the gate. Ultimately, through all these different elements and details, Solomon is portraying a form of a statement. 

The Thing Itself, The Frame, Time, Vantage Point

In The Photographer’s Eye, Szarkowski states that the first characteristic is the thing itself. The “thing itself” means that photography provides a representation of the real world. Photographers focus on divulging what already exists. In the White House Gate image, Rosalind Solomon emphasizes a place that already exists. Specifically,  that is very known to the US population and others around the world. But in the picture, she decided to center the image on the gate instead of the actual White House buildings itself. 

Next, the “frame” refers to the edge and the border between the elements of the real scene that the photographer decided to include, and what they decided not to include. Solomon chooses to focus the photograph on the frame, specifically on the White House gate when viewers first see the image. 

The fourth characteristic is “time” which provides the photographed location over time. Furthermore, the photographs can not directly represent the past or the future but can imply it. In The Photographer’s Eye, Szarkowski mentions two ways that time exposure produces images and insight. The first one is long time exposure and, the second one is a short time exposure. In the White House Gate image, we see time play a role with the snow falling and car tire marks in the snow. The snow informs us of what season it currently was when the picture was taken; which was winter and, the time the picture was taken it was snowing.

Finally, Szarkowski identifies the “vantage point.” The vantage point is when the photograph shows us the world from a variety of unusual angles and perspectives, which can alter our perspective of the world. Solomon portrays the image of the White House gate through a unique vantage point that can allow viewers to interpret the image in many different ways.

Sources

Biography. Rosalind Fox Solomon, Accessed March 22, 2021,  www.rosalindfoxsolomon.com/bio

Rosalind Fox Solomon. (2021, January 30). Accessed March 22, 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosalind_Fox_Solomon

White House Gate, Washington, D.C. (Getty Museum). (1977, January 01). Accessed April 04, 2021,  http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/128245/rosalind-solomon-white-house-gate-washington-dc-american-1977/

Szarkowski, John. The Photographer’s Eye. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2009. 

.

About The Author: Laila Ali is a junior enrolled at Bryn Mawr College. Class of 2022.

Also posted in Art, Blog, Film, Media, Photography, Popular Culture, Travel

Faizah Khan: Lewis Hine-New York City from the Empire State Building

Photo: Lewis Hine

 

Essay by Faizah Khan

.

Analysis on Lewis Wickes Hine

.

Lewis Wickes Hines was born on September 26, 1874 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Although he grew up to study and become a sociologist, he is most remarkable for his later work in photography and its influence on child labor regulation. That said, much of Hines’ work is centered around the struggles of working class people. He was determined to advocate for them and bring about necessary change in order to improve their lives. By capturing powerful photographs of the work ethic of the lower class (through their actions or attire), Hines revealed the inequality and suffering that the working poor faced which consequently raised public awareness and pushed for social reform.

At an early age, Hines lost his father which forced him to quickly adopt jobs ranging from factory to sanitation services. This firsthand experience of working extensively long hours in dangerous working conditions would trigger Hines subsequent path towards advocating for hardworking American workers. Following his undergraduate studies, Hines was hired as a teacher where he taught students about studies related to botany. He was eventually assigned the role to be the school’s photographer which began his experience with photography. From a project that was initially assigned to his students, Hines took on the project himself and began photographing immigrants at Ellis Island in New York. Right from the start, Hines’ focus was concentrated in the struggles of various ethnic groups facing poverty. His early work in photography thus recorded photographs of immigrants, sweatshops, and tenements.

While Hines continued to pursue his education and eventually achieved his Masters in pedagogy from New York University, his work in photography continued. He was most passionate about changing the conditions that existed for child workers which is why he eventually quit his job as a teacher at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School to be an investigative photographer for the National Labor Committee. There, Hines was hired to capture images of children as young as seven working with dangerous machines in factories, mills, and mines. As committed as he was to this role, Hines had to conceal his intentions to the owners of these workplaces because many were against social reform. This forced Hines to portray himself as a salesman of some sort before entering the premises of where these children worked. In fear of being caught, Hines kept record of the children he interacted with as he would secretly record notes in his pocket and measure their heights by the buttons of his coat. It was clear that for Hines, photography was more than just art. Photography served as a tool in educating the public and spreading awareness about the issues of society. As such, his photographs moved his audience so emotionally that his work contributed to the result of the government enforcing child labor protection laws.

Hines’ journey in photography continued as his work allowed him to travel to Europe and work alongside the RedCross to photograph scenes from World War I. After this mission, Hines continued to document scenes depicting living conditions in a rapidly growing industrial society. He eventually moved back to New York where he was offered the opportunity to photograph the Empire State Building‒‒the tallest building in the world at the time. Stories of Hines being suspended up on a crane reveal how challenging yet exhilarating such an opportunity was. While Hines had much of a successful career in photography and brought about the changes he had hoped, much of his work would have been forgotten if not for Berenice Abbott and Elizabeth McCausland, who showcased his work just before his death.

In the Lutnick Fine Arts Center, one of Hines’ photographs related to the Empire State Building project is hung in the gallery. The photograph itself captures the rungs of a crane with the view of Manhattan’s landscape in the far background. I was drawn to this image because being born and raised in New York City, I had a particular affinity for pictures of buildings and skyscrapers. For me, it gave me a sense of home and familiarity. Pictures of New York in the 1930s is also always very exciting to see because the landscape was rapidly changing into a more urbanized setting and to be able to capture such a moment is historically relevant. The fact that Hines was actually capturing these photographs amid the Empire State Building being constructed conveys how quickly New York’s landscape was changing.

After learning about Hines’ backstory with photography and his prior experience, his portfolio that showcases a lifetime of his work began to make sense. However, the photograph displayed in Lutnick is interesting because in Hines’ portfolio of the construction of the Empire State Building, most of the images consist of hard working men working on dangerously elevated cranes. Such images depict the dedication and excitement of the construction of the then world’s tallest building to exist. The men who helped construct the building, whom Hines photographed, were also featured in Hines’ book called Working Men. In contrast to these photographs of men at work, the photograph described in this section depicts a quiet scene of Manhattan from the view of the Empire State.

Upon my initial observation, I noticed that the photograph was over matted and that the photograph was much smaller in comparison to the overall size of the frame. The empty space that surrounded the image forced me to look closer and analyze the photograph for its details a lot more as well. The photograph appeared to be a scenic landscape of Manhattan. Given the dark skies and bright lights shining from the buildings, I was convinced that the image was shot during the nighttime. As such, this image differentiates itself from Hines’ related photographs since it does not capture any working men but rather, it captures a breathtaking view of the city. Such a photograph appeals to me because it encapsulates busy city life amid the dark.

The reason why I was intrigued by this photo was because I was curious as to how Hines was able to capture such a shot. My first guess was that Hines situated himself to have a high vantage point to be able to capture what I believed was a bridge at first. However, I now know that Hines must have been suspended on a crane due to the construction. I imagine that Hines had a low vantage point as his shots capture the foreground of the scene like the crane that presents itself very apparently, in contrast to the huge landscape before him. He must have used a wide angle lens which, paired with a low vantage point, allowed him to capture a scene that was captivating and awe-inspiring.

An observation of Hines’ photograph, and for most of his images as well, reveal his use of a very shallow depth of field. In the photograph, the body of the crane is a lot clearer than the landscape in the background. Hines must have used a wide angle lens and aperture to capture more light and a fast shutter speed to achieve such a shallow depth of field without blur of any hand movement. In a general perspective, most of his portraits, whether it is of working men or children, seem to embrace this kind of depth. Such an aesthetic choice allows the observer to take in more of the details of the person in the photograph, rather than the background which still remains relevant, but only ever so slightly in comparison to the main focus of the portrait.

The photograph displayed in the art gallery was printed in gelatin silver. In other words, the image consists of silver metal that was suspended in a gelatin layer. Considering that it was the first time bromide and silver were combined in one solution to develop light sensitive material, this invention radically changed photography as it allowed photographers to expose plates and develop them days or weeks later. In doing so, photography became more accessible for anyone to participate in throughout the 20th century. Consequently, it is no surprise that Hines used this technique to develop his prints since it was very popular at the time.

In a broader context, the invention contributed to the modern day processing of analog film photography. The gelatin silver process begins with the paper itself, which consists of an emulsion layer that contains bromide, silver nitrate, and gelatin. The prints are then developed since the photograph is only visible after being submerged and agitated in a chemical bath. The way that Hines developed his photos indicate very little visible grain with high resolution. As mentioned, the quality of the photograph is very clear and focused. This overall aesthetic makes the image look very sleek and sophisticated. Such technique in Hines’ work allowed him to capture the breadth of a range of groups, from European immigrants to American workers. Recognizing that his camera had the power to spread a message across the country, Hines utilized his skills in photography to expose harsh conditions that existed and needed to be addressed by social reform.

Lewis Hines redefined how photography could be used as an instrument to advocate for social injustice. Through his photographs, he swayed the hearts of the public which inevitably influenced laws in place to change. His work that captures working men and children, immigrants, and soldiers not only reflect a consistent theme throughout his career as a photographer, but it reveals his commitment to sharing the lives of working class people who often go unnoticed in society. Due to his efforts, he was able to share their unique stories to a wide audience and contribute to social change.

 

Citations

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Lewis Hine”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 30 Oct. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Lewis-W-Hine. Accessed 29 March 2021.

Cycleback, David Rudd. Cycleback.com: Guide to Identifying Photographs: Gelatin SILVER PRINTS. 2003, www.cycleback.com/photoguide/gelatin.html.

Mussio, Gina. Lewis Hine: How Photography ENDED Child Labour in the USA. 29 Aug. 2014, theculturetrip.com/north-america/usa/wisconsin/articles/lewis-hine-how-photography-ended-chil d-labour-in-the-usa/.

Museum, George Eastman, and George Eastman Museum. “The Gelatin Silver Process (10 of 12).” Smarthistory, smarthistory.org/the-gelatin-silver-process-10-of-12/.

“Lewis Hine.” International Photography Hall of Fame, iphf.org/inductees/lewis-hine/.

.

About The Author: Faizah Khan is a sophomore enrolled at Haverford College.  Class of 2023

Also posted in Art, Blog, Film, Media, Men, Photography, Popular Culture, Travel

Mikala Mikrut: Hot Thoughts with Hot Thots

Text by Mikala Mikrut, Copyright 2021 

.

Hot Thoughts with Hot Thots

.

Change has been one of the few constants in many people’s lives, myself included, as of late. Over the past year I: graduated college early, got two part time jobs, and obsessed over avoiding the virus that has consumed not only a staggering amount of lives, but our media and thoughts daily. Over the past month I: started a podcast with one of my best friends, quit one of my jobs to get a full time one, and was a passenger in a rear-ending car crash. All that to say, I’ve had to learn to not only be okay with change, but comfortable with it. Yes of course there is so much to fear in our world as we know it today, but there is still so much to look forward to. And while it may not feel like it at times, we are still in control. In fact, these turbulent times may be the best opportunity to initiate the change you’ve been craving rather than sitting back and letting the universe have the only say in how your today is any different from your yesterday.

Yesterday I chose, last minute, to spend some time running errands with my podcast cohost, Sabrina. Our new creation and bundle of joy (yes, the podcast) is called Hot Thoughts with Hot Thots, and it all started with a drink. Sabrina and I were sitting at a table in the courtyard of The Velveteen Rabbit, a bar in Las Vegas, feeling sorry for ourselves that we apparently chose to sit next to the heater that was only for decoration. We laughed over our recent turmoils, tried to make one another feel better, then landed on how proud we were of our friends who have started businesses and hobbies to keep themselves busy and creative…Well that sort of turned into complaining about acquaintances who seemed to be getting attention for things that Sabrina and I felt we could excel in. One of those things, happened to be podcasting. For years, we would stop mid laughing fit to ask ourselves why we didn’t have our own reality television show as we find ourselves to be quite the comedians.

Well this comedian stopped sipping her fruity, pink, sugar-rimmed cocktail when Sabrina asked, “Why don’t we start our own podcast?” When I back-handedly said “good for” the podcasting acquaintance, I didn’t actually think we would start a conversation on creating a platform for ourselves to prove we could do it better. We decided to talk about what we love most, our opinions. And while we always enjoy each other’s advice and quips, we were pleasantly surprised by the support of our friends from coming up with the name to the amount of listeners. We received over 100 listens before we even released a third episode! In our episodes, Sabrina and I ask each other a question, answer a couple questions sent in by listeners, and then ask the listeners a question for them to answer in the next episode. With such a simple formula, we thought it would give us plenty of room to be creative and hopefully stay fresh long enough to keep our current following as well as generate more listeners in the future.

This small change we made in our lives, to record a 30 minute podcast about once a week, has given both me and Sabrina something to look forward to. We talk to each other that much anyway, but the fact that other people want to listen to and support those conversations make us feel appreciated in a way we’ve never felt before. This past year has been so isolating that I finally understand the craze of YouTubers and why someone would watch a person they’ve never met simply play a video game. It’s not connecting in the same way our parents taught us, through hugs and play and being together. This type of connection touches you in a different way, it’s hearing your thoughts come out of someone else’s mouth or finding out that you’re not alone with your questions or problems. While we may not know all of our listeners personally, we feel the support, love, and understanding of each one. People are asking us questions that not only allow us to share the things we have been waiting to say out loud, but also ones that challenge our thoughts and what we say and have said.

So while change can be scary at times, it may be invigorating to respond to life’s unexpected changes by making a change all on your own. Buy that house, move to that state, date the guy, get to know the girl. Whatever change you have been debating, its outcomes may pleasantly surprise you. If you’re scared, go ahead and think about that worst possible outcome and then ask yourself, “Would I be able to handle that?” Because if the answer is yes, what is holding you back? An “oh well” is always more fun than a “what if?” In my opinion at least. Moral of the story: do the thing. You already have at least one supporter, me.

.
FIRST THREE PODCASTS:

1.Bleached Thongs and Lady Songs

2. Better off Alone and Australian Moans

3. Save Your Money and Be Happy Honey


.
About The Author: Mikala Mikrut is a recent graduate of Southern Utah University. To access additional articles by Mikala Mikrut, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/mckayla-mikrut-impeachment/

Also posted in Blog, Glamour, Hetero Love, Lesbians, Lipstick Lesbians, Media, Models, News, podcast, Popular Culture, Portraits, The Tease, Women

Bob Shell: 2+2=6 Or Anything You Want It To Be

Dr. Seuss Books

 

.

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2021

.

2+2=6 Or Anything You Want It To Be

.

I really fear for the future of our country if something isn’t done to stop the insanity of our American educational system.  One thing that sticks in my mind from my time in Germany is the education of the young people I met there, and their interest in and engagement with culture. 

Two German friends my age, Hans and Erika, have a daughter, Gisela. Last time I saw her was in 2002, when she was in her early twenties. She took me to meet her friends, who were full of questions about America, and took advantage of my availability to pump me over beer and wurst. They knew more about the US than most people here of similar age, and asked insightful questions. And, they all could speak good English! It’s taught in their schools. How many young Americans could carry on an intelligent conversation in another language? 

What brought this to my mind was an article in THE WEEK magazine. The Oregon Department of Education is telling teachers to take a class called “dismantling racism in mathematics.” Yes, you read that right, racism in mathematics! 

The course instructs teachers that “the focus on getting the ‘right’ answer and requiring students to show their work,” are actually “toxic characteristics of white supremacy culture.” Teachers are told “not to perpetuate objectivity by upholding ideas that there are always right and wrong answers.” 

I’m not making up this lunacy, wish that could be the case. 

Apparently, kids today can’t handle being told they’re wrong about anything, and for teachers to insist on correct answers is racist. Notice that they put ‘right’ in quotation marks, as though it is somehow subjective. It may be subjective in the social sciences, but in mathematics? If the United States is to continue its preeminent position on the world stage, we need generations of young people who can handle the disappointments of the real world, a world that won’t coddle them. 

Teachers in my generation insisted on right answers, and our egos weren’t too fragile to take the consequences of being wrong. 

I’m liberal in my social views, but this goes far beyond liberalism into insanity. No wonder the rest of the world thinks all Americans are dumb hicks!

Since at least ancient Egypt and Greece , mathematics, the science of numbers, has been held in high regard. Philosophers studied and admired the purity of mathematics and geometry. These old guys worked out the rules of mathematics, and discovered most of the higher math we rely on today. Their success relied on getting the right answers. Using rules of mathematics and geometry, they worked out the diameter of the Earth using nothing more sophisticated than the sun’s light shining into two deep wells. They were only off slightly, because the Earth is not a perfect sphere, as they thought. 

Later, the Romans were less interested in the theoretical and philosophical aspects of mathematics, but in its practical applications. They were great engineers, which is why so many of their constructions survive today, more than two thousand years later. They got the math right, even with their cumbersome numerals. 

When Europe was plunged into the Dark Ages by religious nonsense, the great Arab scientists invented the zero, and carried on the mathematical knowledge of the ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans. They knew the Earth was round and revolved around the Sun, while back in Europe the church was teaching a flat Earth and a geocentric universe. It took us far too long to bring science to the forefront and shake off those ridiculous ideas. 

Today, we pride ourselves on our science and engineering, both of which require getting the right answer. There is no ‘right’ answer in mathematics, only the one right answer! 

More insanity: Just heard on TV that Dr. Seuss books are being withdrawn by the publisher as racist. Man, that’s sick!

.

About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read Bob Shell’s, first essay on civil war, click here: https://tonywarderotica.com/bob-shell-letters-from-prison-3/

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on Amazon.com . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on Amazon.com.

Also posted in Art, Blog, Media, News, Popular Culture

Bob Shell: Letters From Prison

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2021

.

The Politics of Incarceration

.

Back in September of 2020, a federal court ruled that the IRS could not deny any U.S. citizen the CARES Act stimulus money simply because she/he was incarcerated. In early October the Virginia Department of Corrections provided each of us with a 1040 form and instructions on how to apply for the $ 1,200 checks. We all filled out the forms and mailed them to the IRS immediately. So far as I can tell, no one who applied by mail has gotten a penny yet. Those who had friends or family apply for them on the Internet got their first checks long ago, and some have gotten their second ones. That’s about five months since we mailed in our forms! That’s pretty ridiculous, in my opinion. I can always use money!

I wrote on behalf of myself and others to the law firm that sued the IRS, asking for their help. In response they sent me a letter saying to go on the IRS website, call the IRS’s 800 number, or call them for information. Who do they think they’re dealing with? We can’t go on the Internet, we can’t call 800 numbers, and we can’t call them! Their advice is useless to us, all members of the class they sued on behalf of! Like many people on the outside, they don’t understand the restrictions we labor under. 

Yes, we have so-called email, but I can’t enter someone’s email address into the system. They must do it from their end. My email ‘address book’ doesn’t even show the address, just the person’s name! 

What we have is not real email. 

So, because we lack Internet access we wait months for our money! The Business Office here says the IRS is releasing the checks in a slow trickle, five or so per week. There are over 1,000 men here, the majority of whom had to apply by mail. At five checks a week, it’ll take years! If I sound angry, I am. I’m in prison, yes, but I’m still a citizen, with as much right to that money as any other citizen! If I owe the IRS money, they make me pay interest for every day I’m late, but they’re sure not paying us interest for their delay.

People keep asking me how I’m progressing on the legal front. The answer is that I’m not, at least right now. Our law library is closed, so I can’t get on a computer to do my research, and the Virginia courts are operating under a declaration of judicial emergency, meaning they’re only performing basic functions. All my court deadlines are on hold until the Virginia Supreme Court ends the emergency. I’ll have 90 days then to file my briefs. My two suits to get my convictions overturned are stalled because of this, as is my suit to get my forest back. This last has been made all the more poignant by a book I’m reading. 

‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ is the name of a wonderful book by Peter Wohlleben, German forester, who has his own forest.

We don’t think of trees feeling and acting. Wohlleben tells us that’s largely because trees live at a different speed from us. Our nerve impulses move along our neural pathways very fast, in milliseconds. But similar impulses in trees crawl along, taking seconds to move an inch. Time is stretched for trees, compressed for us. To us, it seems that trees act in slow motion, because their lives are unhurried. But they do feel, and they do communicate. A mother tree reckognizes her offspring and favors them by supplying nourishment the younger trees need. The forest community provides nourishment to sick trees, even keeping stumps alive until they can grow into trees again. 

A forest is a community, with the complex conversation taking place underground between roots, where we can’t see it. A symbiosis between tree roots and fungi takes place right under our noses — or feet. 

This book has made me appreciate my forest even more and made me even more determined to get it back. As a famous person once said, “I have not yet begun to fight!” 

Meanwhile, life here continues in lockdown. We get out of our cells into our common area a few hours each day, which is why I can send/receive emails, but we’re fed in our cells, and only leave the building to go to the medical department, or to go to the gym, where they’re vaccinating us. 

We’ve all gotten the first of two injections of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. I’m due for number two on the 18th. The vaccine hit me hard. My whole left side was painful for days. My cellmate spent the day after in bed, with chills, fever, nausea, the whole gamut of side effects. Some people had no reaction at all. The nurses told us the harder it hits you, the better, since that means your immune system has been triggered to produce antibodies. 

Some medical authorities are saying that because this damnable virus is mutating rapidly, we may need annual booster shots for each new strain. Guess maybe they could give it to us along with our annual flu shot. 

We’ve had quite a few people here, inmates and staff, catch the disease. Some have had to be hospitalized, and some have died, including a friend of mine I’d known for eight years. 

In here we deal with a man based on how he comports himself. We really don’t pay attention to what he’s in for, and usually don’t even know. Of course, there are those who delight in knowing, and in spreading rumors. A prison is a community. I’ve been the victim of rumermongers, based on a totally false rumor started by some lowlifes years ago. It goes away, and periodically pops its ugly head up again. I just ignore it, and carry on being myself. Life’s too short to worry about stupid people telling stupid tales. 

The COVID lockdown has also delayed completion of my next book. I’m calling it COSMIC DANCE II as a working title, but may publish it under another title. I’ll let everyone know when it’s published.

.

About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read Bob Shell’s, first essay on civil war, click here: https://tonywarderotica.com/bob-shell-in-praise-of-ecdysiasts/

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on Amazon.com . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on Amazon.com.

Also posted in Blog, Media, Men, News